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July 6, 2006

US envoy opens talks on N Korea

2002 picture of Taepodong-type missile
The Taepodong-2 test-flight failed shortly after take-off
The chief American negotiator on North Korea, Christopher Hill, has arrived in China to discuss the international response to the North's missile tests.

The visit comes a day after Pyongyang threatened more launches and "stronger" action if put under foreign pressure.

South Korea's defence minister said the North may have a second long-range missile on its launch site.

The US has backed a Japanese plan for sanctions on North Korea, but China has so far opposed any punitive measures.

Instead, Beijing wants more diplomacy and is sending its chief negotiator with the North to Pyongyang next week.

North Korea on Friday proposed military talks with the South, but Seoul refused, citing the current high levels of tension.


The North had harsher words for Japan, demanding that it immediately revoke the sanctions it has already imposed in reaction to the missile launches - such as a six-month ban on a ferry service that provides a vital economic link for Pyongyang.

The Japanese news agency Kyodo quoted Song Il-ho, the North Korean envoy in charge of normalisation talks with Japan, as saying that Pyongyang may take "stronger action" if Tokyo continued with the new measures.

The North tested seven missiles on Wednesday, one of which was a long-range Taepodong-2, believed to be capable of hitting Alaska.

Pyongyang described the tests as successful, despite the apparent failure of the Taepodong-2. All seven missiles landed in the Sea of Japan.

South Korea's Defence Minister Yoon Kwang-ung was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying the North may have a second Taepodong-2 on its launch site in Musudan-ri.

He said further intelligence was needed to confirm the missile was there.

International divisions

US envoy Christopher Hill's visit to Beijing is the first stop on a regional tour to discuss the missile tests.

Mr Hill has met Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing as well as his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, Beijing's chief envoy to the North Korea nuclear talks.

He plans to travel to Seoul later in the day.

US President George W Bush has also been spearheading efforts to agree a joint response to North Korea's actions.

On Thursday night he stressed the need for the international community to "speak with one voice" in response to the tests.

The message to Kim Jong-il should be: "There is a better way forward for you than isolating yourself," he said.

The UN Security Council was due to resume debate on Friday on a draft resolution in response to the launches.

The document, co-sponsored by the US, UK and Japan, calls for sanctions against North Korea, but there are key differences among the major powers, with China and Russia opposed to punitive measures.

1998: Tests long-range Taepodong-1 over Japan
1999: Agrees to moratorium on long-range tests
2003: Six-nation talks begin on N Korea's nuclear programme
2005: Six-nation talks stall
July 2006: N Korea launches seven missiles, including long-range Taepodong-2, which fails

China is North Korea's chief benefactor, supplying the country with all of its oil, trade and a lot of aid.

Canberra's response

Australia announced on Friday that it would scale back its diplomatic ties with North Korea in light of the missile tests.

The head of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Michael L'Estrange, did not elaborate on what the changes might be, but he confirmed that Australia would not halt its humanitarian programme in the country.

Australia is one of just a handful of countries with limited diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

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6 July, 2006
2002 picture of Taepodong-type missile
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